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  • Kara Kimbrough

Spring (or at least what passes for it) is the best time to explore Mississippi's treasures

By Kara Kimbrough

Spring (or at least what passes for it) is the best time to explore Mississippi's treasures
The Elvis Presley Birthplace in Tupelo is visited annually by over 80,000 fans from around the globe. Photo courtesy of Elvis Presley Birthplace Park

Spring and for some, a weeklong break from school, are on the horizon. Instead of jumping ship to other states, why not stay in Mississippi, a state filled with interesting places to explore and enjoy? Here are a few of my favorite Mississippi attractions and places to visit: 1. A place that’s been on my mind recently is Mississippi Petrified Forest in Flora. It's an intriguing, beautiful area filled with archaic trees and stones surrounded by plenty of natural beauty. The petrified forest is aptly named. It was formed 36 million years ago after massive logs floated down a nearby river channel to the current site, then became petrified. Fast forward to 1965 and the area earned National Natural Landmark status. The State of Mississippi even claimed its fossilized wood as our state stone. There is a lot to see, but a favorite stop along the shaded nature trail is the Caveman’s Bench. At the end of the trail is an earth science museum filled with petrified wood samples from the other 49 states. Fossils and minerals from around the world, along with dinosaur footprints, whale bones and other interesting artifacts are on display.


The forest is privately-owned, but open to visitors. Before you go, check out the website for hours and admission fees: mspetrifiedforest.com. 2. Learning the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library is located at Mississippi State University in Starkville was quite a shock. After all, Grant was the commanding general of the Union Army during the Civil War and captured Vicksburg on July 4, 1863. Even if you’re not a MSU alumnus, put school loyalties aside and visit this interesting, professionally-designed space that's informative and educational. It's housed on the third and fourth floors on the university’s Mitchell Library. Besides the Presidential Library of the nation’s 18th president, there's also the Lincolniana Gallery to explore. The gallery contains the nation’s largest privately held research and display material on Abraham Lincoln as well as the country’s most comprehensive privately-held Lincoln and Civil War libraries. Historians, scholars, students and others from around the nation and world visit the museums to study the collections and learn more about the lives of the 16th and 18th presidents. For hours of operation and more, visit the library's website at: usgrantlibrary.org. 3. After mentioning MSU, it's only natural I'd advise anyone with a love of literature to venture further north to Oxford. Yes, there's plenty to see at the University of Mississippi and surrounding area, but a trip to Rowan Oak, home of one of Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author and native son William Faulkner, is the recommended stop. Purchased by Faulkner in 1930, the Greek Revival home sits on 29 acres filled with scenic natural beauty. A tour of the home dating back to the 1840's conjures up images of one of our state's most celebrated writers penning "A Fable." In fact, the outline of the award-winning literature is written on one of the walls in Faulkner's handwriting. Find out more about the home's hours and admission at: rowanoak.com. 4. Elvis has been in the news lately due to the hit movie chronicling his life and the death of Lisa Marie, his only child. If you have never visited the childhood home of one of our state's most famous natives, now's the perfect time to head to Tupelo. The birthplace, a humble two-room shack, draws over 80,000 tourists each year, including from every country around the globe. Today, the home is the centerpiece of the sprawling park which includes statues of Elvis at various ages and his childhood Assembly of God church, the place where he first sang gospel music. The museum, formerly a youth center built by Elvis before his death, contains his personal Bible, towels fans took from his hotel rooms and one of his Vegas costumes. A popular feature of the property, designated a historic landmark by the state, is the Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel, where Elvis’ gospel recordings are played and another Presley family Bible is displayed. Throughout the well-designed garden are stone walls and walks depicting the singer’s life, statues and a picnic pavilions and lake for those desiring to continue reveling in Elvis’ memory. Before you go, check out: elvispresleybirthplace.com.

5. It's not often that I recommend a cemetery visit, but this one's exceptional. Friendship Cemetery in Columbus is the site of the first Decoration Day in 1866, an event that led to the modern Memorial Day observance and national holiday. It's a peaceful serene place despite heartbreaking images of weeping angels and stones marking the final resting place of 2,194 Confederate soldiers killed during the Civil War. Those felled in the bloody Battle of Shiloh in nearby Tennessee represent a large portion of the resting places. In 1866, a group of Columbus women decided to decorate the graves of the soldiers, including 34 from the Union Army. The story of the women tending to the final resting place of soldiers spread across the country, resulting in the publication of the poem, "The Blue and the Gray."

While in Columbus, pay a visit to the birthplace of another famous Mississippi writer. Born in 1911 in an Episcopalian rectory, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tennessee Williams wrote plays, short stories, essays and memoirs. Three of his most successful works include "The Glass Menagerie," "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Faulkner is regarded as one of the greatest playwrights in American history. The Tennessee Williams House Museum and Welcome Center hosts tourists from around the world who travel to Columbus to pay homage to the playwright born and raised in the 1875 Victorian home. Find out more about these interesting places at: visitcolumbusms.org.

Next week, I'll share my favorite central Mississippi attractions, just in time for spring - or spring break - exploring.

Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer from Mississippi. Email her at kkprco@yahoo.com.

 
 






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